“so that I might arrive at the resurrection from the dead.”
It seems that the majority of our English translations do us a bit of a theological disservice when rendering this verse. The phrasing that is typically found in our English Bibles is, “that I might attain the resurrection…”. This implies, in contradiction to what Paul has been writing in the previous verses, that somehow this resurrection is something that we participate in earning for ourselves. And such could not be further from the Truth.
The verb in question is katanta/w (katantao), which can refer to the attaining of a goal, but it also refers to the arrival at a desired destination. In the New Testament, this word is most commonly found in the book of Acts (9 of the 13 uses of the term) and it always refers to the arrival of a person at a given destination.
Why is this significant? It is significant because if our resurrection from the dead is based on our works or even on our personal sanctification, we are all hopeless. Paul has already spoken of his own works as dung…how can we even hope to compare? Will we not fall short every time? Yet, while arrival at a desired destination is something with which we participate, it does not rest fully on our shoulders. How often, in ancient times, we find Paul stepping onto a boat as part of his travels, yet when you are on a boat, while you hope for a particular destination, you are at the mercy of the boat’s crews…and the boat’s crew is even at the mercy of the winds and waves. We know too, as Paul sometimes traveled on land, that God guided the travels, protected him from brigands and other terrors on the roadways. Even today, when I get onto an airplane to travel from place to place, while I have a reasonable assurance that I will arrive at my destination safely, I am in the hands of the pilots and the crew. Ultimately, my trust is in the Lord to guide our plane by his hand of providence so that I might arrive at the destination I seek.
Thus, Paul’s desire is to arrive at the destination…the destination of the resurrection from the dead. Here Paul uses the term ejxana/stasiß (exanastasis) rather than simply to use the more common term, ajna/stasiß (anastasis). This seems to imply a sense of completion — an arrival at more than just the state of being (when it comes to resurrection), but an arrival at the New Creation and a dwelling therein as a resurrected person. For this promise, Paul is willing to let go of anything worldly and to be stripped of anything that would become a stumbling block toward that end.
Our struggle, then, is do we yearn for the destination of heaven so greatly that we care for nothing of this world that might be a stumbling block? I honestly don’t think so. Like Christian, in Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, we are often distracted by the things of Vanity Fair, the discouragement of the Giant Despair, or the fear of the Valley of Death. Yet, what are these things in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that lies ahead of us as believers? What can this world offer that does not pale in comparison? A hunk of glass might look like a diamond to the untrained eye, but under the inspection of the master its forgery is discovered. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the forgery has value.